Marseille (Latin: Massilia) is the second most populated city of France, (and third urban area), the biggest mediterranean port and the economic center of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region.
Marseille has a complicated history. Founded by the Phoceans (from the greek city of Phocea) in 600 B.C., it is one of the oldest cities in Europe. The town is a far cry from the Cézanne paintings and Provençal clichés of sleepy villages, "pétanque" players and Marcel Pagnol novels. With around one million inhabitants, Marseille is the second largest city in France in terms of population and the largest in terms of area. Its population is a real melting pot of different cultures. A famous joke (but french comedians Les Inconnus) states that Marseille is the first Arabic city in the Paris-Dakar race, because it has a very large population of North African immigrants. It is also said that there are more Comorian people in Marseille than in Comoros! Indeed, the people of Marseille have varying ethnic backgrounds, with a lot of Italians and Spanish having immigrated to the area after the second world war.
Marseille is perhaps not the kind of city you will fall in love with your first day there. It is not Paris; there are few obvious "things to do" along the lines of the Louvre museum or the Champs-Elysees. However, for people not afraid to discover a real place with real people, Marseille is the place. From colourful markets (like Noailles market) that will make you feel like you are in Africa, to the Calanques (a natural area of big cliffs falling into the sea - Calanque means fjord), from the Panier area (the oldest place of the town and historically the place where newcomers installed) to the Vieux-Port (old harbor) and the Corniche (a road along the sea) Marseille has definitely a lot to offer.
Forget the Canebière, forget the "savon de Marseille" (Marseille soap), forget the clichés, and just have a ride from l'Estaque to Les Goudes. You will not forget it.
Marseilles-Provence International Airport (IATA: MRS) is located about thirty kilometers from Marseilles. Buses, taxis and now train connect in less than 30 minutes. (Shuttles every European cities in Marseilles has made more places available from Marseille.
The main train station is Marseille St. Charles. It is well-linked to the rest of the city, as the two subway lines and many buses stop there. It is a short walk away from the Canebière and the Old Port. Beware that the station is located on a small hill : if you decide to go the station by foot, you will have to climb a series of steps that could prove very unappealing, especially if you carry heavy pieces of luggage.
From Barcelona, there is a connection to Cerbère, from which there are regular trains to Marseille; also a night train.
Eurolines has many connections all over Europe. From Marseille there are at least direct connections to Barcelona, Prague and Tangier. The bus station is next to the main train station, the St. Charles Station at Rue Honnorat. You get access through Platform N in the train station. There is also a temporary office at Platform N.
There is also an Eurolines office on the 3 Allée Léon Gambetta; If you walk down the big stairs on the southside of the station, follow the road until you come to a squarelike intersection. The office is on your right hand.
Marseille is very well connected to most French cities through numerous highways. As always in France those highways are expensive but practical, comfortable and fast. Marseille is around 8 hours from Paris by car, 2 hours from Nice, 1h30 from Montpellier, 4 hours from Toulouse and 3 hours from Lyon.
Marseille has a big harbour. There are direct ferry routes from Marseille to Ajaccio, Bastia, Porto Torres, Porto Vecchio and Propriano. There are several piers at the harbour, so it is advisable to check well in advance from which pier you are departing.
Although the Control of Marseilles Transport RTM , which manages the network of public transport, does not have good reputation among the Marseillais, there is still a solid network of lines of bus (74 lines) and subway (2 lines). However, the bus management is far from being optimal, and you will not be surprised to see early or late buses! The subway makes it possible to traverse the city very quickly. There is a tram line, which opened June 30, 2007, and a second line will open in the fall. The tickets for bus/métro can be bought in the cafes, at the subway stations, or on the bus; it is advised to buy groups of tickets at 7.10€ (6 voyages) or 13€ (11 voyages), which are not sold in the buses. The number of transfers is unlimited (including the return journeys) within the one-hour limit between the first boarding and last transfer on all the network (you must perforate with each entry to the bus). Be careful! The subway closes at 10.30p.m. except Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings (until 0:30 a.m). A network of bus at night is available. Note the site of Pilote , which repeats the schedules of all the buses, tram, and subways of the RTM but is more readable that the official site of the latter. Moreover, this site repeats the schedules of the majority of transport in common runs of the agglomeration (tram, bus interurban, trains regional) and makes it possible to make search of routes on Marseilles and the nearby communes.
Airport transfers are available for 8.50€ each way to/from Gare St Charles. Tickets may be bought at an outdoor structure between Hall 1 and Hall 3/4 of the main terminal and at a separate kiosk in the new Gare Routière, after Voie N in the Gare St Charles. The bus runs every 20 minutes on 10, 30, and 50 minutes past the hour. The ride is about 30 minutes. The bus says Navette Aeroport Gare St Charles on it. From Gare St Charles, the metro can get you to most hotels.
Metro tickets allow unlimited transfers within 1 hour of initial use for the base 1.70€ fare including re-entry (1 hour limit) to the subway. A daily ticket (carte journee) costs 4.60€.
A Ferry Boat crosses the Old Harbour (Vieux Port). It is a tourist attraction in itself known as the shortest commercial boat ride in Europe.
Avoid taking your car if you can. Marseille, at least the center, has narrow streets, one-way streets and so on which will make non locals crazy. In addition, the local drivers have a reputation for fearlessness.
Due to the new tramway, satellite navigational systems such as the Tom Tom are likely to be out of date and dangerous if followed. For instance, following a Tom Tom in the centre of Marseille could take you across newly installed pedestrian areas or Tram lines. The one-way system has also completely changed.
Be careful of rogue taxi drivers. While there aren't many, there are a few and a €20 ride can quickly become a €40 ride. If you think you've been cheated get the taxi driver's number (located in the rear of the car, often on the window) and go to the Tourist's Office at 4, La Canebière (near Le Vieux Port) and speak to a representative, they can and will get your money back if you've been ripped off. They will also get the taxi driver in significant trouble.
le Vieux Port (old harbour): watching fishermen selling their stock by auction is a must. Arriving to Marseille in the Vieux-Port on a summer evening is something you will never forget... You can watch this show by going to Frioul islands or Chateau d'If and going back late in the afternoon. there is also a nice view on the harbor from the Palais du Pharo (Pharo Palace). The famous Canebière avenue goes straight down the harbor. However the Canebière is not that interesting despite its reputation.
Notre Dame de la Garde: the big church which overlooks the city. Old fishermen used to have their boats blessed in this church. You can still see many boat models hanging around in the church. From there it is one of the nicest view of the city.
Musée des Docks romains (Archéologie-Graffiti-Lapidaire) (the old harbour from Phoenician and Roman times), Place Vivaux, 13002 Marseille. Tel: 04 91 91 24 62
Musée d'Archéologie méditerranéenne (Archéologie-Graffiti-Lapidaire), Centre de la Vieille Charité, 2 Rue de la Charité, 13002 Marseille. Tel: 04 91 14 58 59, Fax : 04 91 14 58 76
le Cours Julien and la plaine: a hangout area with bookstores, cafés, fountains, and a playground for the small ones (metro stop Cours Julien/Notre Dame du Mont). It is THE trendy area of Marseille. La Plaine is the local name for Place Jean Jaurès close to Cours Julien. Every Thursday and Saturday morning the Plaine market is the place to shop. If you are there early enough you can make very good deals, even if what you'll find there is sometimes "tombé du camion" (fallen off the truck) as one says in Marseille.
la Corniche: a walkway and a road by the sea that provides lovely views of the sea, the Chateau d'If to the south, and les Calanques to the east.
la Place Castellane: a roundabout with a grand fountain/column/sculpture in the center, with excellent cinemas and cafés surrounding. There is another place called La Castellane : it is a poor suburb of Marseille where Zinedine Zidane the famous football player was born. Be careful not to confuse the two places.
Boulevard Longchamp and Palais Longchamp (Longchamp casttle and avenue). From the Réformé church (up the Canebière) you can follow the Boulevard Longchamp where you can see nice example of old upper-class buildings to arrive to Palais Longchamp. The palais is worth visiting though it won't take you long. You can visit the "musee des beaux arts" as well as the natural history museum.
Parc Borély (Borely park). A large and great park, 300 meters from the sea. After a siesta in the park go have a drink at Escale Borely (a place with numerous restaurants and bars on the beach) to see the sunset.
Le Panier. Panier means basket in French, but in Marseille it is the name of the oldest area of the town. In the middle of this area there is the Vielle Charité, a wonderful old monument, now hosting museums and exhibitions.
Let's be honest, beaches from Marseille are not always great. Depending on the weather, they can be polluted. However the small beaches between La Pointe Rouge harbor and La Madrague harbor are cleaner, nicer and usually slightly less crowded.
Unité d'Habitation: designed by Le Corbusier. The building is called "la maison du fada" (the house of the foolish) by indegenous people. The building contains a shopping street, a church, a children's school and housings. You can get to the roof and enjoy the breathtaking view of Marseille between hills and sea.
Stade Velodrome: the stadium where the local football team "Olympique de Marseille" plays. Football matches are one of the highlights of Marseilles life. Whilst L'OM have fallen on rather lean times the former champions of Europe are the biggest football team in France. The atmosphere at the stadium is fantastic and whilst visitors are unlikely to get tickets for the popular Virage Nord or Sud seats in the Tribune Ganay offer an excellent view and a chance to soak up the atmosphere. Best games involve teams with some travelling support such as St Etienne, Lens or the grand-daddy match of them all against the evil Paris St Germain. Tickets can be bought (ideally several days before the game) either on-line or from the L'OM shop at the Vieux Port.
Noailles: The area around the Noailles sub-way station is one of the citys most interesting. Lined with Arabic and Indo-Chinese shops some of the streets could be part of a bazzaar in Algeria. A fascinating area.
The Château d'If (If Castle): this small island off the city was a penal colony. It is famous from the novel of Alexandre Dumas, the Comte de Monte-Cristo. Tourist boats leave from the Old harbour.
The Calanques. Wonderful fjords in the south of Marseille near Cassis. From Marseille these are best accessed from the University campus at Luminy which can be reached by bus #21 departing from Rond Point du Prado opposite the Stade Velodrome. The 'fjords' are amazing with wonderful blue sea and spectacular lime stone cliffs. The walk along the coast from Cassis to Marseille is spectacular, it can be done in one day at a fast pace. The trail (GR) is clearly marked (red and white strips). From Luminy, you can turn left to Cassis or right to Callelongue (a bus connects you to bus #19, which takes you back to Place Castellane in the center).
A tour of Aix-en-Provence is a chance to travel in time. Its architectural and cultural heritage is accessible to everyone, treasures that you will discover simply by walking around the town.
As European Capital of Culture 2013, Marseille is planning great cultural changes and events for the coming years. So far, the main cultural events are:
The music festival Marsatac occurs in the end of September and was created 10 years ago. Artists who performed there were for exemple Public Enemy, London Elektricity, The Cinematic Orchestra, Roni Size, Nouvelle Vague, Roots Manuva, dEUS, Mogwai, Peaches, Amon Tobin, De La Soul, Laurent Garnier...
La Fiesta Des Suds, at the Dock des Suds, in October is a famous festival dedicated to World music. You can attend concerts of artists such as Asian Dub Foundation, Buena Vista Social Club, Cesaria Evora...
La Fête Bleue, "the Blue Festival" at the end of June. A lot of shows (concerts, movie projections, exhibits...) occur in many places in the city, and the theme is the colour blue.
La Fête du Panier, at the end of June. During two days, you will be able to see shows, concerts and markets in the oldest area of the town.
Le festival du Plateau, at the Cours Julien, in september.
Le FDAmM or Festival de Danse et des Arts Multiples de Marseille, is the main dance festival in Marseille and lasts all summer.
The festival Avec le Temps that occurs every spring at the Espace Julien (one of the main concerts halls in town) consists in many concerts of French artists, in many genre (Pop, Chanson, Rock, Folk...)
La bouillabaisse is an excellent fish-based soup served with la rouille (a garlic-saffron sauce) and bread similar to crostini. La bouillabaisse cannot be enjoyed at any budgetary level. If you are invited to the home of someone making bouillabaisse, then you are in the clear. Never eat cheap bouillabaisse at a resto unless it's not called bouillabaisse; only eat it out if you have to reserve in advance. Bouillabaisse is a meal...first the soup, then the fish.
There are lots of Kebab restaurants along the Cannebiere.
Bar de L'Hotel de Ville: on the "Vieux Port" on the left of the City Hall. A very popular spot for the long lunch break Marseille's worker are use to take. Friendly service, good food and wine at a reasonable price. No English spoken whatsoever.
Four des Navettes: next to the St Victor Fort, this bakery is famous for its "Navette" dry biscuit which recipe has been kept secret for almost a century. This is one of Marseille's culinary speciality..not to miss.
le Petit Nice: on La Plaine next to the Court Julien, nice little cafe.
les 13 coins: in "Le Panier", a nice terrace with a nice atmosphere
Hotel Lutetia** From 60€ Between the St Charles Trainstation and the Old port 0033.491.508.178 www.lutetia-marseille.com
La Cigale et la Fourmie, Tel.: +33 491 400 512 (Fax: +33 491 400 510, email@example.com), . Calmly situated 30 minutes by public transport from the city and 30 minutes walk from the beach. The old house in the 'Village de Mazargues', a district south of Marseille, has been renovated and turned into a Backpackers Hostel. Every room has kitchen and a bathroom. Free WiFi and Internet access are at your disposal, complimentary coffee is served in the morning (no breakfast, but bakery nearby), 6 bikes are available for loan and there is no curfew/lockout. Dormitory beds are 15 € per night, rooms from 35 €.
The hostel Bois-Luzy is not very expensive, but also not very nice. The hostel is not very close to the city centre and is run by a cranky old man who seems intent on making sure nobody has any fun.
Adagio Marseille Prado Plage* +33 1 58 21 55 84, Completely renovated, the residence is in the heart of the Le Prado quarter, 100 metres from the beach, easy to get to via the Avenue du Prado or the Corniche. It lies in a quiet residential area close to a large number of restaurants and the Palais des Congrès. Note: This site can accommodate people with reduced mobility (minor disabilities, elderly people) with a able-bodied escort and families with young children.
Marseille is an important university center. The campus at Luminy, on the edge of the callanques is set in spectacular scenery from where the road heads along the coast to Casis.
Le Vieux Port has free wireless access, available from many of the bars and restaurants, and in some places in the street (although there are not many places to sit). The ESSID to use is "Marseille Sans Fils" and the network is not encrypted. When you first connect, your browser will take you to a web page about the service in French -- simply click on "Cliquez ici" ("click here") on that page to use the network freely.
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